Central Oregon doesn’t have to work very hard to draw visitors.
The town of Bend sits snugly against the eastern side of the Cascade Range, and the area offers everything from dense forest to high desert, and a collection of ecoregions in between. What was once a logging town was transformed a while back into a base camp for outdoor enthusiasts of nearly every ilk. As the morph progressed, Bend became an artist enclave, with an exceptional food and drink scene following closely behind. The Bend-Sunriver-Mt. Bachelor area has somehow managed to hold onto much of its rugged Western character while becoming a destination for world-class hiking, paddling and fishing, as well as cuisine. But the allure of Central Oregon goes well beyond summer.
Winter brings an entirely new set of reasons to visit the east side of the mountains. A wide array of snow sports complemented by festivals and cold weather activities make winter as good a time as any to plan a journey to the region. Here are just a few of the highlights to consider when planning a trip.
The Hoodoo Ski Area is one of the premier spots for skiing and snowboarding in Oregon. But, in addition to traditional alpine offerings, they are also the only resort in Central Oregon to provide night skiing and snowboarding. If you’re not quite ready for the skiing to end or maybe you’d like to get a couple of runs in after taking advantage of the area’s other worthy endeavors, Hoodoo’s got you covered Fridays and Saturdays from 3:30 to 9:00 p.m. throughout the season.
If you’re new to skiing or snowboarding and would like to finally take the plunge, Mt. Bachelor runs the highly acclaimed “Ski or Ride in 5” program. The five-lesson program is designed to turn first-timers into lifelong lovers of snow sports. Instructors are hand-picked for their communication skills and success rates with beginners. Plus, the lessons include rental gear and a daily lift ticket.
Central Oregon has long been a hotbed for world-class mountain biking—that’s nothing new. What is new is that you can now enjoy an invigorating ride year-round, including in the heart of winter. Of the more recently developed winter activities, fat biking is perhaps the most popular. The bikes, as well as the quality trails in the area, have recently become a sought-after commodity. The Wanoga Snow Play Sno-Park, between Bend and Mt. Bachelor, is as good as it gets for fans of the burgeoning sport. The park provides a range of options for varying skill sets and length of ride.
If “A Bite of Seattle” and the Portland Saturday Market had a baby, it would be The Oregon WinterFest in Bend. The WinterFest runs February 17-19, 2017, and features live music, a market, a fire pit competition, ice sculpture exhibits, performance art and, of course, massive quantities of food and drink. There’s a Wine Walk and a Hot Cocoa Run. There are flying dogs (the K9 Kings) and flying motorcycles (the Metal Mulisha). Whether you’re a fan of pinot or chainsaw ice carving or both—your thirst for winter fun will be well quenched at the Winterfest.
February is also a great time to plan a Central Oregon getaway to indulge in the Sunriver Resort’s Month of Chocolate. Hang your hat at Sunriver anytime during the month of February and take advantage of an expansive list of events, specials and tastings that will rightly give most chocoholics sweaty palms. Daily treats include chocolate-themed food and drink specials at Carson’s American Kitchen and the Twisted River Tavern, not to mention spa specials that feature chocolate and cherry facials and happy hours that provide hand-crafted chocolate truffles. If all that isn’t enough, take in S’mores and Stories by the Fire every Saturday night in February or make a reservation for any of the Taste of the Northwest Dinner Series events.
In the mood for more artisanal libations? Zwickelmania is the annual one-day ode to craft brewing in Oregon. On February 18th, breweries across the state open their doors for special tastings and a behind-the-scenes look at the inner workings of the microbrew process. The Central Oregon region has no fewer than 14 breweries participating, from Sunriver to Sisters. It’s your chance to get reacquainted with some old favorites and get to know some new standouts on the craft brew scene. Crux, Three Creeks, Wild Ride, Boneyard and, of course, Deschutes are just some of the breweries making themselves available for the event.
For a cultural or historical fix, check out the High Desert Museum. Anytime is a great time to visit, and that includes the “off” season. It takes a lot to be named the #1 thing to do in Bend by TripAdvisor, but with some of the best permanent, temporary, and live-action exhibits around, the High Desert Museum consistently sets a high bar for education and entertainment.
There are ample places in the Northwest to take advantage of winter, but the Bend area offers a unique experience. All the traditional pursuits that you associate with the season are available in abundance, as well as some things you didn’t know you needed. But they are offered with a charming brand of casual class. Everybody who lives there, as well as anyone who visits, seems to be having just a bit more fun than everyone else.